LINGUIST List 24.2294

Tue Jun 04 2013

Diss: Psycholinguistics: Paciorek: 'Implicit Learning of Semantic Preferences'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <>

Date: 30-May-2013
From: Albertyna Paciorek <>
Subject: Implicit Learning of Semantic Preferences
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Institution: Cambridge University Program: PhD in English and Applied Linguistics Dissertation Status: Completed Degree Date: 2012

Author: Albertyna Paciorek

Dissertation Title: Implicit Learning of Semantic Preferences

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Dissertation Director:
John N. Williams
Dissertation Abstract:

The research examines the phenomenon of semantic implicit learning, using
semantic preferences of novel verbs as a test case. Implicit learning
refers to the phenomenon of learning without intending to learn or
awareness that one is learning at all. Semantic preference is the tendency
of a word to co-occur with words sharing similar semantic features, e,g.,
‘drink’ is typically followed by nouns denoting LIQUID, and the verb
‘chase’ is typically followed by ANIMATE nouns. The material presented here
spans across disciplines. It examines a well-documented psychological
phenomenon, implicit learning, and applies it in the context of language
acquisition, thereby providing insights into both fields.

The organisation of this dissertation groups its experiments by their
methodology. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the current psychological
and linguistic literature. Chapter 2 includes a pen-and-paper study carried
out in a classroom environment on Polish learners of English, where
awareness is assessed by subjective measures. Chapter 3 includes a
collection of 5 computer-based experiments based on a falsememory paradigm.
After exposure to sentential contexts containing novel verbs, participants
are shown to endorse more previously unseen verb-noun pairings that follow
the correct semantic preference patterns to the pairings that violate it.
The result holds even when participants do not reveal any explicit
knowledge of the patterns in the final debriefing. Awareness is
additionally assessed using indirect measures examining correlations of
confidence judgements with performance. Chapter 4 examines whether implicit
learning of novel verb semantic preference patterns is automatic. To this
end, a reaction time procedure is developed based on two consecutive
decisions (“double decision priming”). The method reveals that semantic
implicit learning, at least in the described cases, exerts its influence
with a delay, in post-processing. Chapter 5 comprises research done in
collaboration with Dr Nitin Williams, University of Reading, documenting a
search for neural indices of implicit learning using a novel single-trial
analysis of an EEG signal, based on empirical mode decomposition (EMD)
denoising. Chapter 6 presents a final discussion and indications for future

The main contribution of this thesis to the field of implicit learning
consists in its challenging the predominant view that implicit learning
mainly relies on similarity of forms presented in training and test. The
experiments here require participants to make generalisations at a higher,
semantic level, which is largely independent of perceptual form.

The contribution of this work to the field of Second Language Acquisition
consists of empirical support for the proposition that certain aspects of
linguistic knowledge can develop without explicit instruction. At the same
time, it challenges any view assuming that vocabulary learning necessarily
relies on explicit mediation. At least word usage in context can be learnt
implicitly. Furthermore, the native language may play a key role in
determining what is learnt in such situations. A deeper understanding of
semantic implicit learning promises to shed light on the nature of word and
grammar learning in general, which is crucial for an account of the
processes involved in the development of a second language mental lexicon.

Page Updated: 04-Jun-2013